Scotlands History

Death of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I, ‘Good Queen Bess’, had ruled England for 45 years. As she lay dying in Richmond Palace in March 1603 plans were made to make James VI of Scotland - the son of Mary Queen of Scots – the new King of England.

In 1588 Elizabeth had faced the threat of invasion as the Spanish Armada sailed for England’s shores. At Tilbury in Essex, Elizabeth famously addressed her troops, saying, ‘I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm.’

The Spanish fleet was attacked by English fireships – packed with gunpowder, tar and brimstone – before a sea battle at Gravelines. The remnants of the invading force sailed around the coast of Scotland to be wrecked in violent storms off the coast of Ireland.

Elizabeth feared that Catholic Spain would put Mary Queen of Scots on the English throne. Eventually she had Mary executed.

Elizabeth never married. King James VI of Scotland, the only son of Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley, would succeed to the throne of England as his great-grandmother was Mary Tudor – a sister of Henry VIII.

In March 1603 Elizabeth I prepared to die. Her ladies-in-waiting laid out cushions on the floor of her bedchamber when she refused to take to her bed. After four days the Queen was lifted up into her bed. She slipped into a deep sleep and never woke. She died peacefully in the early hours of 24 March 1603 – ‘like a ripe apple from the tree’.

It is believed that when Elizabeth I died a ring was taken from her finger and sent to James VI to prove that the Queen had died. The ruby, mother-of-pearl and diamond ring bore enamelled portraits of Queen Elizabeth and her mother, Anne Boleyn.

When James VI received the ring in Edinburgh he knew that Elizabeth was dead and he would become the King of England. He made sure that Elizabeth was given a lavish royal funeral. She was laid to rest by the side of her sister in Westminster Abbey. In 1612 James had his mother Mary’s remains disinterred from Peterborough Cathedral and brought to London. She was given a beautiful alabaster tomb – far grander and more expensive than the tomb of Elizabeth I.

  • Photo of engraving of Elizabeth I from 1880s

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